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The Long Drive Home
It became the most famous cattle drive route in the Old West, and this year, the Chisholm Trail turns 150 years old. To travel its modern-day path is to journey through the state’s still-vibrant cowboy culture.
By Robert Reid
Published July/August 2017
During the trail days, Indian Territory was merely the middle of the road. Unlike Texas or Kansas, it had only a handful of stores and essentially no towns. One exception was Silver City, a village north of present-day Tuttle.
All that’s left of Silver City today is the town cemetery. I park in a gravel lot and step into the hot afternoon sun. The first tombstone I happen upon is for Edwin G. Campbell, who died in 1881 at age eleven. The world through which the Chisholm Trail traveled was kind to few.
Bill Voelker of Sia: Comanche Eagle Center in Cyril
Photo by SHANE BEVEL
Afterward, we take a series of dust-kicking roads east to where wide plowed fields of churned-up dirt are backed by a wee line of trees edging the out-of-sight Canadian River. We flag someone down who tells us this is Braum’s farmland. A clerk at a Chickasha Braum’s later confirms that, “Yep, that’s where all this stuff comes from.” We ride to a dead end then walk a few hundred yards to reach the brown water lazily flowing east. This is roughly the location of the old crossing.
“I almost packed a canoe,” Shane glumly notes on a small sandy bank between thickets of seven-foot high reeds. “That way we could have paddled across.”
On the other side of the river, I see an identical sandy bank wedged between thickets of seven-foot high reeds. I nod.
The way back to Highway 81 soon bursts our 1860s bubble as we follow commuters into traffic-clogged suburbia. I’m surprised, in Yukon, when Kim casually notes how close Oklahoma City’s skyline is. By the time we reconnect with 81 at Okarche, we decide to get an early dinner of fried chicken at Oklahoma’s oldest bar, Eischen’s. While waiting for our order, I pen a twenty-first-century verse for “The Old Chisholm Trail:”
We follow the brown signs but can’t find no ruts.
Adventures are fun, but this is kicking our butts.
Come a-tie yie youpy, youpy yie, youpy yea
Come a-tie yie youpy, youpy yea.
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Get There: The Chisholm Trail Museum, 605 Zellers Avenue in Kingfisher, (405) 375-5176 or ctokmuseum.org. The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, 1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway in Duncan, (580) 252-6692 or onthechisholmtrail.com. Shooting Star Enterprises welcomes tour groups. (580) 825-3374 or shootingstarhistory.net. To read more of Robert Reid’s journey up the historic path of the Chisholm Trail, order the July 2017 issue of Texas Highways magazine. (800) 839-4997 or texashighways.com.